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Stratford Mayor Harkins Vetoes Budget To Cheers From Bunnell Students

Students at Bunnell High School support Stratford Mayor John Harkins as he vetoes the town budget. Their signs — #IStandWithTheFuture — show their support for more school spending. Photo Credit: Karen Tensa
Stratford Mayor John Harkins and School Superintendent Janet Robinson shake hands after he vetoed the town budget on Thursday at Bunnnell High School. Photo Credit: Karen Tensa
Students at Bunnell High School support Stratford Mayor John Harkins as he vetoes the town budget, which called for steep cuts in education programs. Photo Credit: Karen Tensa

STRATFORD, Conn. — It was part civics lesson and part political rally as Stratford Mayor John Harkins took to the auditorium stage at Bunnell High School to veto the town budget Thursday afternoon.

Harkins blasted the "flawed budget," telling the audience of students, "the dramatic reduction in spending would decimate our schools."

The Town Council approved the $216.1 million budget — with no tax hike — in a 6-3 vote on May 17.

The portion of the budget for schools was $107.9 million, an increase of 1 percent. The school district requested a nearly $3 million increase, and needed an increase of 2.65 percent just for a status quo budget.

The cuts would likely result in "up to 35 teacher layoffs, the elimination of freshman sports and extracurricular activities, the elimination of middle school sports and activities, and the elimination of the all-day kindergarten program," Harkins said.

"Do you take accounting?" the longtime mayor asked the students. "The approved budgets don't add up."

A group of about a dozen Bunnell students holding protest signs, many saying #IStandWithTheFuture, stood behind Harkins as he signed the veto. The students, who had been invited onstage, had protested the budget at previous town meetings.

Harkins also slammed the Town Council members who voted to approve the budget.

"We have councilors who scream, holler, name-call and talk out of both sides of their mouth ... they say one thing and do another," the mayor told the students as he urged residents to "vote them out."

Harkins also urged the Town Council to work on a compromise budget.

"Nobody ever wants to raise taxes, but the fact is this budget was nothing more than a false promise that would have resulted in a huge budget deficit, followed by a crippling tax increase next year" Harkins said. "A weakened school system and reduced services for residents would only drive down property values and further increase the mill rate. I urge the council to forge a consensus on a budget that serves all of Stratford."

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